LabourNet is a social enterprise that creates sustainable benefits for workers in the informal sector by offering them a platform to access services. It provides financial inclusion, social protection and welfare services to unorganised workers, builds capacities of workers and markets their services to customers. Gayathri Vasudevan, in an email interaction with Prashant C. Trikannad, offers a ringside view of the unorganised sector in India.
Can you briefly explain the genesis of LaboutNet? How did it come to be formed and who are the people behind it?
LabourNet was started in the year 2006 as an initiative of Movement for Alternatives for Youth Awareness (MAYA), a non-governmental organisation based in Bengaluru. It began largely as an effort to provide a one-stop platform for unorganised sector workers to obtain services which are currently available and accessible by formal sector workers. Today, LabourNet has revamped itself into a social enterprise to make it more sustainable and provides required benefits for workers in the informal sector through a holistic platform. Its sustainable model is an end-to-end solution through a built-in 4E – Empowerment by blending Education, Employability and Employment. It is structured and in synchronisation with the National Skill Qualification Framework (NSQF) and the mandate set up by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC).
What are the various services offered to the unorganised sector?
LabourNet’s sustainable model is an end-to-end solution through a built-in 4E – Empowerment by blending Education, Employability and Employment. LabourNet offers services such as:
* Skill assessment and skill development through the livelihood centres.
* Training to the workers at onsite centres.
* Fulltime or contract employment assistance to the workers trained through LabourNet.
* Work contracts and self-employment opportunities to ensure jobs are brought to the household
* Upskilling leading to industry and academia recognised certification to ensure higher wages and social stature.
* Financial inclusion, social protection and welfare services to unorganised workers.
We offer training in more than 40+ trades across three key verticals — services, construction and manufacturing. In addition to this, we provide skill development training in areas that encourage micro-entrepreneurship. The various trades we provide training include carpentry, masonry, shuttering carpentry, electrical wiring, plumbing, painting, crane operator training, fork lift operators, general machine maintenance, bar bending, press operators, fitters, beauty and hair care, safety training etc.
In a related question, what are some of your current activities and programmes?
We have designed customised solutions like Individual Learning Solutions, Enterprise Learning Solutions, Hybrid Learning Solutions, School Learning Solutions, Skill Gap and Occupational Standards Consulting and Labour Compliance services. The training is interactive and on-field through peer learning methodology, which results in speed, quality and safety. We have developed training content including manuals, videos, master guides and learning cards for 40 trades broadly classified under the construction, mechanical and services sectors and are in the process of standardising the training modules. Labournet today has 40 livelihood or training centres across India and 90 onsite centres and we look to expand this further.
Training is only the first step, though; Labournet connects its registry of informal sector workers to businesses who need services, in sectors ranging from carpentry, plumbing, electrical and electronics, manufacturing, retail, leather, rubber, beauty and wellness, housekeeping services etc. Labournet also provides workers access to identification cards, accident insurance, bank accounts and training.
How would you define “informal workforce”? In which areas is it most prevalent?
There are multiple definitions for informal sector. Informal sector consists of those workers who have not been able to organise themselves in pursuit of their common interest due to certain constraints like casual nature of employment, ignorance and illiteracy, small and scattered size of establishments. They lack social security and are mostly lowly paid. All workers who belong to informal workforce might not be necessarily unskilled, but their skills are not recognised by any formal institute.
Agriculture sector employs more than 50 per cent of the informal sector workforce followed by construction and manufacturing sector.
Can you provide some figures with regard to the organised and unorganised workforce in India?
According to reports, a staggering 92 per cent of India’s estimated 510 million workforce is in the unorganised sector today, of which close to 9 per cent, that is 46 million approximately, is unemployed. Some 350 million of this workforce is illiterate. While the remaining 450 million are employed, 90 per cent of the total labour force is underemployed with no full wages. Worse still, there is a huge disconnect between skills required and the current workforce talent available in the market
How does LabourNet help improve the earning opportunities, skills and social security of India’s large informal workforce?
LabourNet works towards improving real income of all its candidates and workers in the unorganised sector by providing them vocational education and training with decent work opportunities. We aspire to drive social transformation through a unique approach that looks to empower the informal sector workers. Our approach involves four steps:
Types of intervention
Type 1: We set up livelihood centres in semi-urban and rural India. The aim of these centres is to become the hub for social transformation in area. The counsellors in these centres engage with the local community and have unskilled youth join various skill development programmes and work programmes delivered through these centres. The livelihood centres then assists students, who have undergone skill development training with fulltime employment, contract employment, job work contracts and self-employment through Village Entrepreneurship Model. These ‘work’ opportunities may be created within the tehsil/district or outside the districts we operate.
Type 2: We partner with corporate houses to fulfill their “Shared Vision.” This is a unique programme which gives access to skill development and ‘work’ programmes to the informal sector workers within their factory premises, being directly or indirectly employed or displaced by them. These programmes are also delivered at the work site in such a manner that the informal sector worker doesn’t have to forgo their daily wage to get skill and the corporate house also doesn’t lose a resource. Our programmes help to ensure the informal sector worker is trained and certified and this results in increased productivity and reduced wastage at worksite.
Type 3: We partner with the government and various government agencies to deliver large scale skilled and livelihood programmes for specific industry clusters, targeted geographic regions etc. We also work with relevant government agencies and sector skill councils to assist them with standardisation of job roles, occupation standards and social impact studies. This allows driving social change by ensuring candidates or workers post skill development can be gainfully employed.
Type 4: We partner with large, medium, small and self-owned enterprises to ensure the course content and curriculum is relevant to their needs. We use robust assessment and certification techniques to ensure that each candidate who undergoes a skill development programme actually has a marked improvement in skills, which will enable him/her to have a better livelihood and productivity for the enterprises.
What are some of the major challenges you face in bringing positive change to the unorganised sector?
The term ‘unorganised sector’ is self-explanatory; the workers in this sector works in a much unorganised environment and occupied with challenges. Some of the challenges that we face:
* Migration — 30 million workers in India are constantly on the move (migrant labour).
* Political support is limited in certain areas.
* Inadequate laws and legislation.
* Gender specific work — women are excluded in most trades in the unorganised sector.
* Bonded labour.
* Financial constraints — unorganised workers are low-wage earners.
Has the Government of India been doing enough for the informal workforce?
As 92 per cent of India’s estimated 510 million workforce is in the informal sector today, the government needs to magnitude efforts much higher, and also needs to focus on education and labour laws in order to give a boost to skilling.
The government has offered its support to LabourNet by partnering with it on some of its projects and funding through National Skill Development Corporation. The trained workers are certified based on occupational standards in conformance to NSQF and other internationally accepted standards.
What is the extent of the unorganised workforce in the project industry where skill and talent development is critical?
The complex infrastructure projects are largely built by unorganised workers wherein the skill level is very low. Ninety per cent of the workforce is into projects, in which skill workers form a low proportion. LabourNet’s efforts are to increase the skill proportion of 90 per cent of workforce which is critical as they are the form the shape of the projects.
Can you give specific instances of LabourNet’s collaboration with corporates in imparting training to informal sector workers?
The organisation has established partnerships with close to 110 clients including some of the most reputed and established companies such as Godrej, HUL, Jubiliant and Schneider Electric who also certify their training material. We have registered and developed skills for over 1,00,000 workers across 50 + sites and centres in last four years. We also have ensured accident insurance and bank account to over 30,000 workers. We developed and delivered assessment for trades such as carpentry, plumbing, electrical, bar bending, tile laying, masonry etc.